2016: My Business Year in Review

This is my 4th annual end-of-year reflection on my business. (Here are the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.)

This was an interesting and pivotal year. The short version of it is that I’ve increasingly pulled away from client services in favor of focusing on products that serve my brand.

Review of 2016 Goals

My broad goals for the year started out as:

  1. Create new educational products
  2. Nurture customer relationships
  3. Keep OfficeHours.FM going strong
  4. Overhaul this website

On the whole, I kept to these goals, but with some twists that I’ll touch on below. But first, let me give the over-arching goal that all of those goals serve:

Grow recurring revenue. Why? Because that revenue is what funds experimentation and growth. That’s the financial cushion that lets me say no to opportunities that aren’t a good fit (without fear of missing a mortgage payment) while trying out new ideas (that may or may not fly).

It’s arguable whether any of my recurring revenue is truly passive yet, but overall I made solid progress toward the bigger goal.

1. Create new educational products

I’ve taught WordPress and front-end development courses for Lynda.com since 2014. This year I added 4 courses to the mix (compared to 9 courses in 2015).

I shocked myself when I looked and saw I’d only done four. It felt like a lot more, but probably because those were longer, more in-depth courses than most of what I produced the previous year. Some were also on topics I had little experience with and needed to teach myself first.

I’d also intended to publish at least one course independently, but that didn’t materialize. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get more done in this department, especially as I’ve realized more and more that educating is what I truly enjoy.

That said, I’ve learned a lot about how to teach online courses along the way and I’m ready to get crackin’ in 2017.

2. Nurture customer relationships

A stated goal of 2015 was to be picky about the projects and customers I decided to work with (I can’t recommend this goal highly enough).

If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know that I accepted a position with Crowd Favorite in September 2015. At that time I found loving homes for all but a handful of my active clients (and I stopped taking on new project work). This wasn’t due to a non-compete (Crowd Favorite always championed me doing “my thing” on the side), this was due to me wanting to keep my sanity and my good name. I knew I couldn’t do a good job serving a full roster clients while also working full-time.

In March 2016, I left Crowd Favorite (more on that in a moment) to pursue my projects again. Since I’d already made a clean break from client work (with the exception of a few long-time clients I’d continued serving), I opted to leave things that way to create more space in my schedule for chasing my other goals.

A note on Crowd Favorite

The WordPress community loves some good gossip or a little drama. Well, there’s zero of that here.

Folks have saddled up beside me to ask “What’s the deal? What happened?” Well, here’s goes the rather boring answer.

I wasn’t looking for work when Crowd Favorite recruited me, but I jumped on that opportunity for three main reasons:

  1. The opportunity to work with some folks I truly admired and knew I could learn from
  2. The opportunity to see how what I’d been doing as a freelancer scaled into an enterprise/agency environment
  3. The opportunity to work with a team again

I was with Crowd Favorite six months, during which time I got a wonderful dose of each of those things I just mentioned. But here was the rub: Even though I gave up my client work, I was still doing everything else (podcasting, teaching, writing, speaking, etc) along with my work at Crowd Favorite.

I maxed out. Stress took a physical toll. Something had to go.

I needed to choose between employment and self-employment. Clearly, I went with the latter.

I left (on good terms) and continue to enjoy my relationships with the people I worked with at Crowd Favorite. They are some of the dearest people to me in the WordPress community.

3. Keep OfficeHours.FM going strong

2016 was a great year for the OfficeHours.FM podcast! I celebrated the 100th episode, published a free e-book of collected wisdom nuggets from my guests, started/completed Season 2, and started Season 3. With these changes, I launched a new website as well.

Oh yeah, I also started an online membership community and then shut it down after a few months (not every idea is a good idea, it seems). I’ve since gone to a much easier to manage Slack community for podcast listeners.

All in all, I invested significant time and energy in the podcast this year. While sponsorship dollars help tremendously in the efforts to make this a sustainable project, it’s not a profitable one yet. I’m working on that.

4. Re-work CarrieDils.com

It’s cliché at this point to say “the cobbler’s children have no shoes and I’m a web developer with a crappy website…” People offering professional services need to have a professional site. I’ve learned that a professional site has almost nothing to do with time for design, development, etc. That’s a crutch.

What’s infinitely more challenging and time-consuming (for me, at least) is drilling down and working through the process of defining who it is I serve and how it is I serve them. From there, it’s figuring out how to shape content around those purposes and, finally, wrapping it up in a website. Really, it’s exactly what I would do for a client before diving into a new project so I don’t know why it took me so long to go through it myself.

As my business has shifted away from client services and more toward education through my various online endeavors, my website has increasingly failed to communicate what it is I do with any sort of clarity.

Over three months, I took a blogging/branding course from Jeni Elliot and worked behind the scenes to truly consider my target audience, re-organize the site, and get rid of old content that was no longer relevant to my business.

I made (what feels like) a lot of progress and re-launched this site in late October 2016. There’s still a lot of clean-up to do and, of course, endless tweaks to make. But at least for now I know that I’m doing a better job communicating how I can help people (and better funneling them to the content they’re looking for).

Looking forward to 2017

In 2016 I’ve invested a lot of time in two projects that don’t generate a ton of income: officehours.fm and carriedils.com.

Why would I do that?

I’m re-positioning myself to move forward in a new direction that boils down to consulting and educating. The podcast and my website are the two best channels I have to communicate that message and promote whatever I choose to offer in those two areas.

Consulting

I’ve done client work since 1998. SINCE 1998. While my career has taken various twists and turns in that time (including seasons of both employment and self-employment), I’ve always had at least 1 active client throughout the past 18 years.

I am ready to take a step back from traditional client services. My plan is not to take on any new projects in 2017, save a few cherry-picked opportunities.

Instead of taking on full projects, I’d like to offer my experience to others via 1:1 pay-by-the-minute consulting. If you need direction regarding your website or are a freelancer needing a little help, schedule a call with me.

Educating

This is my sweet spot. The recurring theme through my courses, podcast, speaking, and writing is education. Each of those things is an avenue through which I can help other people by providing information.

I’ve given away a lot of content in the 4-5 years I’ve worked with WordPress and I’ve loved it. Through that I’ve made new connections, opened doors to new opportunities, and formed some deep relationships. (Seriously people, give away value. It will return to you in spades)

I will continue giving away a lot of information. I also want to produce additional paid content in 2017.

I’ve already mentioned the Lynda.com courses and my desire to independently publish tutorials or workshops. Those materials serve a DIY technical audience. I’m also exploring some collaborative opportunities.

In addition to my tech audience, I would very much like to help other self-employed (or wanting to be self-employed) folks based on the experience I have. So far I’m working on a book for freelancers and plan to speak at the Freelancers Conference in Spring 2017.  Who knows what other forms this will take.

Some final thoughts

Each year I write these “year in review” posts and, after thinking back through all the things I’ve done, I say to myself no wonder I’m tired.

I’ve never really included personal goals in these posts (and I’m not into resolutions), but there are two things I think are critical for me to do in 2017:

  1. I need to make some healthier choices for my body
  2. I need a hobby that doesn’t involve my computer

Those are things that will serve me well in my business. And, to quote Forest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

What about you? How’s 2016 been and where are you headed in 2017? (If you write a review post, be sure and leave a comment with a link).

25 thoughts on “2016: My Business Year in Review”

  1. This is a great post, (I love everybody’s year-end reviews), as well as a reminder to finish my year-end review. Hopefully I get it done before the last day of the year. 🙂

  2. Love the review Carrie, congrats on the great year!
    I’d love to hear about your content strategy /journey (maybe as you go through it? 🙂 ). Excited for you also with no traditional client services.
    I wish you mucho success in 2017 (didn’t know I was bilingual, did you?).
    🙂

  3. I like how you teach through Lynda.com and hopefully that has been generating some revenue. The new site looks good and your photos look fantastic (really, I like them). I listened to a podcast during the year by Darren Rowse about having a “Start Here” page and noticed you had a button with that title… and that took me to your About page. You are good on video and your Texas-twang is distinct (I love it)… maybe you should create a professional two minute video (great video and audio) that tells your personal WordPress story.

    Keep going!

  4. Hey Carrie,

    For a change, I wanted to work on the “Cobbler’s kids have no shoes and I am a digital marketer with a crappy website” thing, and I certainly want to put it on that list called “New Year’s Resolution”. I wanted to work on this before the year ends and I did.

    You are the expert, you tell me how it looks.

    But here’s the rub: I want to get away from the client model too. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now and It’d need away to educate and take to the teaching online with courses model. Really, anything other than dealing with clients who want the moon for their chump change.

    I am a marketer, and that’s where the skills are. But, I’d love to know what you think about it?

    Ash

    1. Changing your business model is no small move! If possible, try slowly weaving in education (or other revenue sources). Going cold-turkey off client services (which I’m guessing is most of your revenue?) would be painful.

      1. Hey Carrie,

        No, I didn’t want to move suddenly. Totally agree with you on slowly weaving in other revenue sources.

        It’s just that it feels so intimidating moving away from the services model — we know that so well (although it’s only partly fun).

        It feels like that the same moment several years ago when I had quit my job. The leap of faith, again? Damn, does this ever end?

        Ash

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